Skip to Main Content View Text-Only

Parks & Recreation

Healthy Parks, Healthy Portland

Phone: 503-823-PLAY (7529)

Fax: 503-823-6007

1120 SW Fifth Ave., Suite 1302, Portland, OR 97204

Subscribe to RSS feed

Most Recent

View More

Charles Jordan, Former City Commissioner, Portland Parks & Recreation Director, Passes Away at 77

Charles Jordan“Model the way – you never know who is watching and wanting to be just like you.”

-Charles Jordan, on Portland Parks & Recreation. 

(Portland, OR) –

Beloved former Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) Director and City Commissioner Charles Jordan passed away in his home this morning after a long illness.

Charles Jordan was a pioneer for Portland Parks & Recreation, and implemented lasting and landmark programs for all Portlanders. Jordan’s legacy has and continues to enhance the lives of current and future generations. Just a few hallmarks of Jordan’s tenure include popular PP&R programs such as the free annual series of Movies in the Park, plus innumerable youth initiatives. Jordan gained public support for critical parks bond and levy measures. He oversaw 44 new Portland parks and natural areas during his tenure. Charles Jordan’s leadership, commitment to Portland, and innovative policies are anchors of Portland Parks & Recreation’s mission and philosophy now and going forward.

“Charles Jordan is established in history as one of the heroes of Portland,” says Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. “His many contributions to our community live on, and his memory will inspire others to reach beyond ordinary goals to achieve greatness. “Charles Jordan epitomized the best in community-building leadership in Portland.”

“Charles Jordan was one of my heroes,” says City Commissioner Nick Fish, a former Parks Commissioner. “One of the greatest moments in my public service was honoring Charles at the dedication of the Charles Jordan Community Center in the Portsmouth neighborhood. He was a national leader in the parks movement. Today is a sad day for the Portland Parks & Recreation family.”

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales has ordered all City flags to fly at half-mast from today through Saturday, April 12.

“As Portland’s first African-American City Commissioner and Portland Parks & Recreation Director, Charles was the champion for much of what we love about Portland's parks,” says Mayor Hales. “Charles Jordan was most of all about access to parks and recreation programs for everyone. He was passionate about that principle, and the rest of us caught the inspiration from him.”

“Charles Jordan inspired us all,” says PP&R Director Mike Abbaté. “His energy and positive attitude were contagious; he drew people to him and motivated people to help themselves, and their community. At Portland Parks & Recreation, Charles transformed us from a bureau to a family. We continue that tradition even today among all “Parkies”. His loss leaves a hole in our hearts, but Charles’ legacy lives on.”

Jordan’s memorial service will be private, for family only.

About Charles Jordan

Charles Jordan was a former Portland City Commissioner, and former Director of Portland Parks & Recreation whose leadership over more than three decades will be felt indefinitely. In June, 2012, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to rename Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R)’s University Park Community Center in honor of Charles Jordan.

“There never has, and there never will be, someone more deserving of this honor,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish at the time. “He was the person who took Portland Parks & Recreation to the next level. Charles Jordan is a champion for the environment and conservation nationwide. His commitment to children, families, and to building community is extraordinary.”

The renamed Charles Jordan Community Center – a building made possible by his efforts – was dedicated on Sunday, July 22, 2012 with a free public celebration.

After spending his early life in rural Texas, Jordan served as an officer in the U.S. Army. He received his B.S. from Gonzaga University in Education, Sociology, and Philosophy. In 2001, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law degree by the University of Vermont.

Jordan spent 10 years as Portland’s first African-American City Commissioner beginning in 1974. He served 14 years as Director of Portland Parks & Recreation and retired in 2003. Jordanliterally changed Portland’s landscape by overseeing 44 new parks and natural areas during his tenure.

Jordan was the force behind Portland landmarks such as Pioneer Courthouse Square, the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center,Delta Park,Southwest Community Center, renovations to Tom McCall Waterfront Park and Matt Dishman Community Center, and many more public projects and successes.

As City Commissioner, Charles Jordan was noted for his innovative and unconventional approaches to problem solving. He developed the Community Juvenile Officer Program that put Portland Police officers in local schools to engage youth through positive interaction and activities. As Fire Commissioner, he developed an outreach training program to recruit people of color to the Fire Bureau.

On the national stage, Charles Jordan broadened the agenda of the environmental movement and land conservation to make it more inclusive. He is known for his groundbreaking approach to putting people – particularly people of color – at the heart of the American Conservation Movement.

“His great saying was ‘Parks are more than just fun and games,’” says Michelle Harper, who worked with Jordan for years in several capacities. “He is a spiritual person with a strong connection to his church, and he saw us all as being connected.Portland’s parks were where we could come together to build community and family.”

Notable Charles Jordan quotes

“What people don’t understand, they won’t value; what they don’t value, they won’t protect; and what they don’t protect, they will lose.”

“Today you follow, but tomorrow you will be expected to lead.”

“If change is to be, it’s up to you and me.”

“Dreams are simply goals with wings.”

“Don’t let anyone steal your joy.”

“Take good care of yourself and you can care for others.”

“We’re more than just fun and games.”

“Develop a passion for something and do it well.”

“Model the way – you never know who is watching and wanting to be just like you.”

A chance to embrace Charles Jordan’s memory

PP&R is proud to offer a chance to learn more about Charles Jordan at the third annual New Columbia Community Health Fair on Saturday, April 5, from 12pm-3pm.

Free and open to all, Portlanders are invited to celebrate the legacy of the community center’s namesake, former City Commissioner and PP&R Director Charles Jordan. Jordan’s new book More than Just Fun and Games will be available for purchase. Proceeds from the sale of More than Just Fun and Games will go directly towards Charles Jordan Community Center.

The community fair will also feature free health screenings and information, children’s activities, food samples, and amazing raffle prizes including a bicycle.

WHAT: Charles Jordan Book Release and Community Health Fair

Please join us for a social event featuring the release of Charles Jordan’s book at the community center named in his honor, plus health awareness and activities for the whole family.

WHEN: Saturday, April 5, 12pm-3pm

WHERE: Charles Jordan Community Center, 9009 N. Foss Ave.

WHO: Free and open to all friends and neighbors